What does (your) child's play look like?

It was with great interest that I read The Atlantic's "The Overprotected Kid," which I heard about from Jessie. The blurb:

A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer. A new kind of playground points to a better solution.

The TL;DR of it is that parents (like me) who were allowed to roam free in their own childhoods are now keeping a much closer eye on the play activities of their children and discouraging risky and/or unsupervised behavior. This, even though stranger abductions are thisclose to being a non-danger, and so-called improvements in playground equipment safety (such as rubber matting or woodchips instead of asphalt) have not lead to any appreciable decrease in playground injuries. The "new kind of playground" mentioned in the article is basically a junkyard that kids are encouraged to play in.

I am in absolute agreement with this article, even though I tend to hyperventilate at the thought of the possibility of my kids playing with 2x4s and rusty nails while the group of 10-year-old boys nearby lights a fire in a metal garbage can. Eek! Also, it's great that statistics show that kids don't get seriously injured at the playground that often, but that is cold comfort for the mom of the kid who was partially paralyzed after falling off a slide (referenced in the article). In my own experience, on paper I believe children, including mine, should play with sticks and pretend they're swords, etc., but then someone gets poked in the eye and it's not so fun anymore.

All that said, in real, everyday life, I encourage my girls to play outside on their own, unsupervised by me. During breaks from school, and often on Saturdays, I send the girls outside and sometimes only see them when they come inside for food, drink, and the bathroom (I see a lot of other people's kids in my bathroom, too). I glance out the window from time to time and see a lean-to made out of yard clippings and tree limbs propped against a house there; a picnic blanket and pillows here (complete with 5-year-olds pretending to be babies wrapped up, "sleeping,"); our bin of scarves and hats and dress-ups overturned on the grass; and groups of children industriously coloring in the white dotted line down the center of the street with fluorescent pink sidewalk chalk. The rule for my kids is that they can't be running around outside alone. That's it. If they have a playmate, I try to let them do as they please.

They don't even really have playdates. If they want to play with someone, they start knocking on neighbors' doors. Or they go outside and start an activity that will attract other kids.

This system (or lack thereof) is not without its downsides. When kids are just playing in the neighborhood, it can be hard to police who made this mess on someone's patio, or who is commandeering the 3-year-olds' scooters, or who dared someone else to drink irrigation water mixed with dirt. And there is the issue of me noticing a different kid in my bathroom every hour, though I haven't had as much trouble with that since I drew an imaginary radius around our home and told the girls and their playmates that anyone who lived inside of said radius had to go use their own toilet, at their own home.

I hope all of the above means my girls are getting at least a taste of good, old-fashioned, outdoor, unstructured, unsupervised play.

What does your child's play look like? Is it playdate-dominated? Park-based? Supervised? Would you let your kid play on junkyard mattress trampolines?

Here is what our street looked like one early evening in January (it gets dark early here - this was probably around 6pm).


Be careful what you pray for

March 21st, outsourced